SEATTLE — A man who died of COVID-19 was dissected in front of a paying audience, and his widow had no idea.
The family of David Saunders, 98, learned of the autopsy from a KING 5 investigation that exposed the Oct. 17 cadaver class in Portland, Oregon. A similar event in Seattle was canceled.
Event organizers sold tickets for up to $500 to the public to view in-person the autopsy and dissection of a human body. The event is part of the Oddities and Curiosities Expo, which travels across the country.
“It makes me really feel saddened that this gentleman was not given the dignity and the respect that he deserved and what he thought and his family thought that would be happening to his body,” said Mike Clark, a funeral director in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Clark handled the preparation of Saunders’ body as it was handed off to a private company that the family thought would use his corpse for medical research. Instead, Saunders ended up in a Portland Marriott hotel ballroom as the centerpiece of an autopsy and dissection before a live, paying audience.
A group of funeral directors notified Clark this week after KING 5’s investigation aired.
“I was totally horrified,” Clark said. “Our whole staff was horrified that this is what had happened to a gentleman that he and his family thought that his body was going for the advancement of medical students.”
Clark said Med Ed Labs, a Las Vegas company that solicits body donations purportedly for medical and science research, never told him or the family that Saunders’ remains would be used in such a manner. He also said the funeral home has stopped working with Med Ed Labs.
However, the event’s organizer, founder of DeathScience.org Jeremy Ciliberto, told KING 5 that the donor and his family did give consent.
“I can guarantee that that man knew his body would be used for medical research," Ciliberto said.
An administrator for Med Ed Labs, the firm that sold Saunders' corpse to Ciliberto, said Ciliberto was “beyond” dishonest in his dealings with Med Ed. Obteen Nassiri said Cilberto claimed he would use the body for a medical class.
According to Saunders’ death certificate, he died of COVID-19, meaning a potentially infectious body was dissected at an event where people were invited to examine and touch the body.
Nassiri could not explain why he supplied a COVID-infected donor to a client, although he said his company usually checks that out.
Editor’s Note: After our investigation aired, the Oddities and Curiosities Expo provided an official statement, which provides in part: “Our only role was to provide a ticketing platform for Death Science, which was the proprietor of the class. The Oddities & Curiosities Expo made no profit from this demonstration. The cadaver class has never been a part of the traveling expo.” The KING 5 Investigators confirmed the Oddities and Curiosities Expo refunded ticket purchases following the canceled show and for unfilled orders for live stream tickets. Death Science was a vendor at the Portland Expo, where tickets to the cadaver class were sold. In addition, The Oddities and Curiosities Expo Facebook page promoted the cadaver class in conjunction with the Expos on October 16 in Portland and October 30 in Seattle.